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Canadian Internet Stuck in the Slow Lane: Jackman-Atkinson

July 28, 2018 8:11 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press

Internet - Laptop

NEEPAWA, Man. — Last week I was irritated to once again be unable to make a phone call travelling between Minnedosa and Brandon. Then I heard about the “upgrades” to mobile service in the Alonsa area.

It was reported that in the six weeks since two towers were upgraded, one in Amaranth and one at Ebb and Flow, area users found that they now have almost no service at all.

Many rural Canadians are used to having inconsistent service, the problem is that in this area, the service had been relatively good and many residents had abandoned their landlines. The subsequent loss of cell service is creating both inconveniences and safety concerns. CBC Manitoba quoted a statement from Bell MTS saying that their engineers were working on improving coverage. There’s no word on when Alonsa-area residents will be able to rely on their cell phones again.

The loss of service comes with profound implications. Like most rural Manitobans, many residents in the area work alone, in sometimes inhospitable conditions. Fire departments need the service to gather a crew and respond to emergencies. A cell phone can literally save someone’s life.

An urban Canadian can’t imagine having to stand in one specific place to be able to talk on the phone, but that’s a reality for many users. Forget the information superhighway, many rural Manitobans can only hope for the information bush road.

Speed Test, an organization that compiles real users’ data to gauge actually network speeds in various countries shows just how good some Canadians have it. Their most recent report on Canada was from April to September 2017 and ranked Canada’s downloads speeds as the 15th fastest in the world. Our upload speeds were the third fastest in North America and 46th in the world.

The over 263,000 Canadians whose tests contributed to these results must all have been living in major Canadian cities. Their speed tests showed an average mobile download speed of 35.19 Mbps, while the average upload speed was 10.29 Mbps. These users also experienced improvements over the year before, with download speeds increasing by almost 39 percent and upload speeds by almost 20 percent.

For comparison, sitting in my living room, my download speed is 1.8 Mbps while my upload speed is 799.8 Kbps. According to Speed Test, the three lowest-ranked countries had download speeds of 6.14 Mbps (Afghanistan), 5.13 Mbps (Tajikistan) and 4.62 Mbps (Libya).

When it comes to Canada, there are two types of mobile users, those with good service and those with poor service, yet we all pay the same rate. The high cost of providing the network speeds experienced by urban Canadians is borne by all users, even those of us with slow or non-existent service. In recognition of the importance of high-speed internet, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tracks mobile and fixed broadband internet access and affordability. For medium usage plans, the average Canadian price of $47.37 USD per month is almost double the OECD average of $25.70. No matter what criteria you use, Canadians pay among the highest rates in the world.

In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) put broadband internet into the same category as landline telephones, announcing that it would be considered a basic service. The CRTC also announced speed and access targets for both fixed and mobile broadband services, the category into which today’s smartphones fall.

Despite this, many rural Manitobans are finding their service no better and in many cases, worse. While there have been promises of network upgrades and investments, further consolidation in the industry will only result in higher prices. This is one competition Canadians don’t want to win.